Technical glitches and lagging scene changes didn't completely stop the cast of Adventures of Caveman Robot from bringing the fun to Brooklyn's Brick Theater. This production—a live-action, video-projection mash-up based on a comic book series created by Jason Robert Bell and Shoshanna Weinberger—is at once an homage to the genre that birthed Superman and the Green Lantern and a send-up of some of its more conspicuous narrative conventions. Oh, and did I mention it's a musical?
A rampant spree of "glorious larceny" has plagued the city of Monumenta (a geographical stepchild of Sin City and Metropolis), and delightfully bonkers villains have made the streets unsafe. The superhero who has managed to keep the evil in check is a lovable "metal Neanderthal" of questionable intelligence called Caveman Robot.
Victims of their own single-minded psychosis and hubris, the villains are often the ones who steal the show. And this one has plenty of gems, including the Colonel, a Nazi commander who bitterly inhabits the body of a penguin (puppetry by Robin Reed); Ape Lincoln (Ian W. Hill), a speechifying transplant from a Planet-of-the-Apes-style alternative universe; his screeching mate and fly girl Monkey Todd Lincoln; and Mr. Tense, a guy wound up so tight that bullets bounce off his body.
Besides the clunking robot, some of the heroes they match up against are the tea-drinking faux-Brit Professor Tuttlewell and his bleeding-heart, genius niece Megan, and the requisite Everyman, Loser Pete, whose maturation from do-nothing to Caveman Robot sidekick loosely frames the oftentimes nonsensical plot.
None of the cast members (most of whom admirably portray several characters) seem to be trained singers, and their off-key renditions of Debby Schwartz and Jeff Lewonczyk's tongue-in-cheek songs are endearing in their earnestness. Hope Cantrelli as Megan Tuttlewell performs a second-act showstopper with her grrrl-power rock ballad "His Robot Queen." And Ian W. Hill manages to rap a simian-themed version of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address that helps make this one of the highest-lowbrow or lowest-highbrow shows I've seen in a while.
It's kind of a shame that a production jam-packed with this much silly appeal relies so heavily on poorly integrated, prerecorded video projections to help convey the back story. I recognize the impulse to create a theatrical equivalent to the action movie's spinning newspaper; its bold headlines fill the screen while an ominous voice-over establishes context and propels new dangers into our superhero's path.
But the constant shifts between what should be consistently high-energy antics and the more sterile onscreen news bulletins and monologues make the production lag. Ditto for Mater Vox, the sentient computer program that responds to the Tuttlewells' every voice command. If I've suspended my disbelief enough to watch a guy stomp around in a silver cardboard box—the peerless Bell gives a physically herculean performance as the title character—there is no need to disrupt the magic.
As it stands now, Adventures of Caveman Robot is a flawed but passionate show, one that audiences with a slightly higher tolerance for shows that aren't Broadway-slick will walk away from laughing.